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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom…
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967)

by Tom Stoppard

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,31254828 (4.21)122
  1. 61
    Hamlet by William Shakespeare (guyalice, kxlly)
    guyalice: Reasons should be obvious
  2. 40
    Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (guyalice)
    guyalice: Stoppard's play's been called "Waiting for Hamlet," as both are existentialist plays featuring a pair of clueless (yet tragic) idiots.
  3. 20
    The Reduced Shakespeare Co. presentsThe Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr by William Shakespeare (meggyweg)
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English (53)  French (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Tom Stoppard has been writing plays for more than a half century. Some that I have had the opportunity to read or see in performance include Arcadia, Travesties, The Invention of Love, Night and Day, and his great trilogy The Coast of Utopia. But before all of these he burst onto the world theater scene with a dramatic masterpiece titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Both a tragicomedy and a parody of sorts, it focuses on the two courtiers, Ros & Guil (for short), whose existence we owe to William Shakespeare and his tragedy Hamlet. Stoppard's play exists behind the scenes of Shakespeare's play as we follow the two courtiers on their predicted way to death.

As the play opens we meet Ros and Guil in "a place without any visible character". Guil is tossing coins and Ros is calling heads, which is unusual only in that the coin keeps coming up heads and apparently has been for some time. This leads them to a brief discussion of the law averages and the law of diminishing returns. One wonders, they wonder, about the nature of reality and time. Has it "stopped dead"? Can they remember what just happened not too long ago. Guil asks:

"'What is the fist thing after all the things you've forgotten?'
Ros: Oh I see. (Pause.) I've forgotten the question.
Guil: Are you happy?
Ros: What?
Guil: Content? At ease?
Ros: I suppose so." (p 16-17)

Guil speculates that they must be operating under supernatural forces and proceeds to provide a lengthy scientific commentary that is as much designed to ward off fear as it is to convince Ros of Guil's point. But instead of reassuring Ros it leads into a discussion of death and what it is like to be dead. Guil's reassurance to Ros: "But you are not dead." is lost among their speculations. Their tenuous connection with reality is quickly established and with the imminent entrance of a group of theatrical players, "The Tragedians", this theme will be expanded through metaphor and wordplay to the point that the whole play appears as a dream, or more likely a nightmare ending in death.

The nature of their existence as characters reminds one of Godot's Vladimir and Estragon. Indeed, the absurdity of their condition and even some of their dialogue demands such comparison. Stoppard’s play goes beyond the hopelessness of Vladimir and Estragon’s absurd condition and provides much more comic entertainment. The two are shown whiling away their time on the fringes of the “major play”, whose echoes they are eager to absorb but whose significance remains enigmatic. Hence, despite all their efforts to “act”, when the crucial moment comes and it rests upon them to warn Hamlet, they fail. They thus fall short of having the text “rewritten” in their favor, and prepare their own untimely, yet (inter)textually predestined, deaths.
The theme of appearance versus reality is sustained by a profound metadramatic discussion on art versus real life. This begins with the entrance of the Tragedians and their playful invitation for Ros and Guil to be not only spectators but, if they are willing to pay a slightly higher price, participants in the performance of a tragedy--performed for their sole benefit. While they do not join the players the question of appearance versus reality which was suggested even earlier continues to vex the two courtiers. Throughout the play their are comic moments, usually redounding from word play. One moment was reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello routine with Ros and Guil going back and forth with confusion over "what" and "why" (p 68).

The play’s enormous theatricality is afforded by the playful handling of Hamlet as well as the abundant use of (comic) reasoning. We even find Guil mimicking Hamlet with the comment, "Words, words. They're all we have to go on."(p 41) But one wonders what value the words are when the existence of the characters is as fragile as it seems in this play. By foregrounding epistemological uncertainty as ethically relevant, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead announces one of the abiding preoccupations of Stoppard's own future writing. It also entertains the happy reader with a delightfully intellectually stimulating play. ( )
3 vote jwhenderson | Jul 4, 2014 |
Waiting for Godot meets Hamlet. Waiting for Godot, the original show about nothing. (Take that, Jerry Seinfeld.) This fills in the details about R&G, 2 minor characters in Hamlet. I also couldn't help but think that Disney latched on to this as well. The Lion King is considered a rewrite of Hamlet. A few years later, Disney came out with a direct-to-DVD movie called The Lion King 1 1/2, a look at The Lion King from Timon and Pumbaa's point of view. That was a rewrite of this play. This play will be performed, along with Hamlet and Merry Wives of Windsor, at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN, in the summer of 2014. Go to www.grsf.org for details.
1 vote jmcgarry2011 | May 9, 2014 |
This really was an amazing play. I found myself literally laughing out loud while reading, which I try to restrict myself from doing even when I am by myself. While I read this years after reading Hamlet, there was still enough connection to make this a brilliant retelling that is smart and entertaining. ( )
  CareBear36 | Mar 8, 2014 |
I don't much like reading plays. Occasionally I will find reading a play is brilliant, something I can envision on stage, something gripping, compelling. Unfortunately, this play was not one of them.

I am partially handicapped by the fact that I've only once read Hamlet, and that five years ago, so some of the references were entirely lost on me. But it is also true that I found the play difficult, even the familiar bits from Hamlet were obscure to me, and that I found the work herky-jerky and nerve-wracking, and wanted it to end.

I don't want to see it on stage, either, I have a feeling it would annoy me. All in all, not a great read. ( )
  ahef1963 | Jan 2, 2014 |
The author has taken two unimportant [dare I say expendable?] characters from Hamlet, turned Hamlet on its head and made these two [Ros and Guil, as the author calls them] the main actors: more than a mere plot point in the original. Also, the Player [leader of the travelling theatrical troupe of tragedians] is very important in moving the action [such as it is] along. Ros and Guil are clueless throughout: why have they been summoned to Denmark? What does the king want them to do? What and why is Hamlet's 'transformation'? What will be their fates? Surreal humor, absurdism, silliness, a touch of sadness, and fantastic wordplay make this play--interspersed with relevant scenes from Hamlet--a modern classic. It's a play within a play within a play... I thought it was hilarious. It would help to know at least a basic synopsis of Hamlet.

It was most witty and I loved the rapid-fire patter, especially when Ros and Guil "play at questions", along with each keeping score on the other [like a tennis match--e.g., "two---love"; "foul"]. I read this play with text in hand watching the movie, written and also directed by Tom Stoppard. The movie had visual elements the play did not; and the play had dialogue that had been cut from the movie. So together, they were a good fit. Later, I read the text aloud. Seeing a theatrical performance would not go amiss. This play is most highly recommended. ( )
2 vote janerawoof | Dec 20, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
This is a most remarkable play. Very funny. Very brilliant. Very chilling.
added by keeper3014 | editThe New York Times
 
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead [is] verbally dazzling...the most exciting, witty intellectual treat imaginable.
added by keeper3014 | editThe New Yorker, Edith Oliver
 
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Two ELIZABETHANS passing the time in a place without any visible character.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802132758, Paperback)

Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:39 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Two minor characters from "Hamlet" offer a novel view of the melancholy Dane.

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